LONDON (Talon News) — Months before coming to the United States, “Jerry Springer the Opera,” is stirring up heated controversy in Britain. MSNBC reported that the show, which contains up to 8,000 profanities and features tap-dancers dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and a showdown between Satan and a diaper-wearing Jesus, was broadcast live across the United Kingdom by the BBC on Saturday evening.
More than 20,000 people have complained to the public broadcaster. There were protests outside BBC offices before the show was aired. MediaWatch-U.K., a TV lobbying group, has also written to the chairman of the BBC Governors, asking him to reconsider the showing.
But MSNBC reported the BBC stood its ground, saying prior to the showing that it is the BBC’s role “to broadcast a range of programs that will appeal to all audiences — with very differing tastes and interests — present in the U.K. today.”
However, in its online program guide, the BBC comments that the show has “very strong language, and religious imagery in the second act which some viewers may find offensive.”
The production evidently has a following. MSNBC reported that about a half million people have seen the West End production, and it was named best musical at the “Olivier Awards,” the “Critics’ Circle Awards,” the “Evening Standard Awards” and the “What’s On Stage Awards.”
Based on Springer’s controversial TV show, MSNBC commented “the opera is an unlikely fusion of high art and trailer-trash culture.”
The British based “Daily Mail” newspaper reported the opera contains 8,000 cases of swearing, while the London “Sun” newspaper counted 3,168 uses of the “f” word in addition to other obscenities. The BBC responded by saying, MSNBC reported, that the count of 8,000 obscenities was reached by adding every swear word sung by each member of the 27-strong chorus.
Regardless of the exact number of obscenities, “people do resent bad language, profanity and blasphemy being blasted into their homes,” John Beyer, director of MediaWatch-UK, told MSNBC.
Composer Richard Thomas explained how Springer’s program provided a perfect operatic theme.
“It’s got tragedy. It’s got violence. There are people screaming at each other, and you can’t understand what they’re saying,” he told MSNBC. “It’s perfect for opera.”
MSNBC commented, “As Springer’s guests belt out their sexual exploits and sordid fetishes … the stage show explores society’s obsession with fame and its voyeuristic desire to revel in other people’s anguish.”
While the stage show created controversy, the BBC’s live screening created hysteria, MSNBC reported, with the BBC swamped with more complaints than it has ever received.
The show’s portrayal of the Messiah as a fat, diapered man who sings he’s “a little bit gay,” has driven Christians to inundate Web sites with messages urging believers to protest the screening, MSNBC reported.
David Soul, the current star of the hit show, defended the BBC’s screening, saying, “It wouldn’t have got where it is if it was about blasphemy and language.”
The former “Starsky and Hutch” actor told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, MSNBC reported, that the show’s critics had a right to protest but added, “We have a right to enjoy quality entertainment.”
Each British household that owns a television set must pay an annual license fee of $226 that goes toward funding the BBC. As a result, outraged critics of “Jerry Springer the Opera” feel that the corporation has an added responsibility to respect their views.
“They are a public source broadcaster with obligations laid on them by Parliament, particularly because of the way it’s funded,” Beyer said to MSNBC.
“If the public reaction to this show is anything to go by, they aren’t meeting their obligations,” he said.
Additionally, if the show was mocking any other religion than Christianity the BBC wouldn’t allow it, Beyer said.
“That’s what makes it all the worse, that they think they can do it to the Christian believers in the country,” Beyer told MSNBC, adding that the show had given focus to a growing dissatisfaction at falling television standards.
Despite the more than 30,000 protests that have flooded the broadcasters in advance of the Sat. night broadcast BBC2, not all Christians back the anti-Springer line.
Some of them are saying the protesters need to get a life, and a number of Christians involved with the performance have hit back at claims that the show is blasphemous and should be banned from the BBC.
“I’m a Christian and I certainly don’t see it as blasphemy at all,” Ekklesia, a self-described think-tank that promotes radical theological ideas in public life, reported in a news release that Soul, who plays Springer, also told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program.
BBC Director Mark Thompson, who has been facing unprecedented pressure to cancel the Saturday night showing said, Ekklesia reported, “I am a practicing Christian but there is nothing in this which I believe to be blasphemous.”
However, Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, a UK-wide prayer group, told Scotsman.com, “I find it astonishing that Mark Thompson and David Soul claim they are Christians and they can see nothing wrong with Jerry Springer the Opera.”